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20 accused in Fargo counterfeit check cashing scheme

FARGO - Five people are accused of racketeering and another 15 defendants face forgery charges in connection with a scheme prosecutors say involved printing counterfeit checks and cashing them at Fargo Walmart stores in June.

Ayla Shawntay Owens, who made her first court appearance Tuesday, and four others are charged with illegal control of an enterprise, a Class B felony racketeering charge punishable by 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Another 15 defendants face a felony forgery charge for allegedly cashing the counterfeit checks, said Cass County Assistant State's Attorney Tristan Van De Streek.

Owens' bail was set at $5,000 cash or bond, and arrest warrants have been issued for the others charged with racketeering: Latesha Nichole Wilson of Minneapolis; her son, Silas Phifer of Fargo; Phifer's girlfriend, Regina Janee Todd of Fargo; and Mohamed Tasha Paya of Fargo.

"The allegation is that they were more key players in the ongoing offense," Van De Streek said.

Each counterfeit check cashed was for around $1,000, and they totaled more than $22,000, he said.

According to the Fargo Police Department's report, several counterfeit checks for more than $100 with business names "Muller Management" and "Hennepin County" were being cashed at both Walmart locations in Fargo between June 2 and 17.

Investigators checked with the companies and determined the account number wasn't valid and that the names listed on the checks weren't those of past or current employees.

The police report accuses Wilson of printing the checks via a laptop computer and payroll printer while she was living with Phifer and Todd. Wilson also allegedly cashed the checks or had other people cash them in states across the country.

Phifer, Todd and Owens are accused of cashing one check, while Paya is accused of cashing two.

Todd and Paya denied recruiting others to cash the checks, while Owens refused to cooperate with the investigation, the police report states.

The public defender appointed to Owens on Tuesday ended up having a conflict of interest with the case, and it wasn't clear if another attorney had been appointed to her.

Van De Streek said there was a similar case a couple of years ago in which people from the Twin Cities were coming to a Fargo retailer to cash counterfeit checks, but this case has more defendants.